Ethiopia says first year of Nile mega-dam filling 'achieved'

Addis Ababa (AFP) –


Ethiopia said Tuesday that its first-year target has been reached for filling a mega-dam on the Blue Nile River that has stoked tensions with downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan.

"It has become evident over the past two weeks in the rainy season that the GERD first year filling is achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping," Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said in a statement, using the acronym for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The project has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011.

Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat to vital water supplies, while Ethiopia considers it essential for its electrification and development.

Addis Ababa has long intended to begin filling the dam's reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season.

But Cairo and Khartoum have been pushing for the three countries first to reach an agreement on how it will be operated.

Ethiopia's announcement came as African leaders held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to try to resolve the dispute, a process that is being overseen by the African Union.

Last week Ethiopia acknowledged that water was gathering in the dam's reservoir, though officials said this was a "natural" part of the construction process.

The Tuesday statement did not specify exactly how much water was in the reservoir, nor did it say whether the first-year target had been hit through a "natural" process or through concrete steps to expedite filling.

The reservoir has a capacity of 74 billion cubic metres, though the target for the first phase was considerably less than that.

In a statement earlier Tuesday, African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said it was "absolutely necessary" that Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan "come to an agreement that preserves the interest of all parties".